Temple Tiger row ends with all tigers allowed to stay but with conditions

Row over the evacuation of tigers at the Tiger Temple was temporarily resolved after the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation (DNP) agreed with conditions to allow the temple to keep the tigers.

Conditions include that the temple must not use the tigers for commercial purposes, and inbreeding among the tiger population is prohibited as this is a main reason that cause health problems of the tigers.

The agreement was reached after the department’s team of officials who included veterinarians went to Wat Pa Luangta Maha Bua or commonly known as Tiger Temple to remove all its tiger population to new homes in Ratchaburi province.

However when  officials arrived at the temple Friday morning,  they softened the tough stance from planned  removal to counting the tigers instead  to make sure  how many  are actually  in the temple sanctuary.

A DNP official said they came to conduct  head counts   to see whether the numbers match what they  have or not, or are the same tigers in the DNP records.

He said the department had been told there should be 147 tigers at the temple.

When asked whether the department would consider seizing the animals,  he said the department had  that idea but in actions so far it has not reached that process yet.

Earlier there had been confused figures of the current tiger population  Some report said  the temple has 147 while other said 146, with three missing. Another missing was said to have died.

But these remained a mystery.

The alleged  missing tigers cast doubt on speculation among animal right protection groups and the department that wildlife trafficking might be involved.

A department’s veterinarian who used to take care and implant micro chips in these tigers earlier came out to indicate suspected wildlife trade when video footages showed pickup truck leaving the temple at night before news report would emerge that three tigers went missing.

During yesterday’s inspection, the team brought micro chip readers to identify tigers in the temple if the information matched with those the department had in its record.

While veterinarians from Mahidol Hospital scanned the  DNP personnel are also cross checking the tiger’s characteristics against catalogued photographs to check its markings and ensure that it is indeed the same animal on record.

Head  of the DNP’s wildlife breeding division director  Mr Naret Chombun stated that they have not yet been able to verify that all tigers within the temple are the same animals as some of these big cats were agitated and could not be checked.

Authorities plan to also collect DNA and fur samples to add to the tiger catalogue as well as verify their species.

There is also additional fear that the years of inbreeding within this facility has resulted in unhealthy tigers.

“The last time we took stock of the tigers here was in 1999 and again in 2001. The small gene pool which resulted in inbreeding have now affected the health of the tigers here and there is no possibility of using them for breeding to repopulate the wild tigers,” he said.

According to the temple authorities, there are currently 146 tigers on its grounds where a total of 97 were embedded with microchips and registered as well as catalogued by the DNP.

The temple also claims that the additional 49 tigers which include the three tigers suspected to have gone missing were also been embedded with microchips.

However as these were younger animals, they have not been registered with the DNP.

As to local animal-rights groups accusing  the temple of failing to properly look after the tigers, Mr Naret said that they are convinced that the tigers here are well cared for by the monks and temple staff here love these creatures.

In February, wildlife officials said they conducted a raid and discovered dozens of hornbills, jackals and Asian bears that were being kept at the sanctuary without the correct permits.

Meanwhile a senior monk of the temple Phra  Mana Dhevadhammo said the temple is a protected zone for animals and they have a right to be here.

“The abbot has approved the caring and shelter of these tigers. We do not sell any of these tigers nor do we deal in illegal wild life trafficking,” the monk said yesterday.

After yesterday’s meeting the temple has agreed to follow all of the DNP’s proposed procedures in order to keep these tigers in the temple.

This includes having members of the DNP be part of the caretaking team of the tigers and also verified that they would no longer allow these animals to breed.

“The tigers here should not be allowed to breed. The small gene pool within the temple has resulted in unhealthy, sickly animals.

The temple has promised to make their best attempt to prevent this however we need to be diligent and keep a close eye on this facility,” said Mr  Adisorn Nuchdumrong, the DNP’s deputy director-general.

Authorities have so far managed to scan and check 70 tigers yesterday  and will be  taking the information gathered here to compare with the DNP’s database.

At this stage it is yet to be determined whether any tigers in the temple have actually gone missing.

However the DNP official is confident that the checks should be complete within 3-5 days.

It should be noted that the checks being conducted have been fairly smooth as the temple is cooperating with authorities and have come to an agreement that the monks will be able to continue to care for not just the tigers but the other wildlife that have ended up here.

The temple must not collect fees from tourists visiting the temple or for any other commercial purposes

The DNP will however now be a more active participant for the care of all wildlife within the temple. This is to ensure that the wildlife here, not just the tigers, are healthy, live within hygienic enclosures and have an overall good quality of life.

The DNP will also keep a close eye on the number of animals within the temple to ensure that there is no illegal trafficking, the DNA official added.